Welcome to Imperfect Prose on Thursdays. Today’s post is written by IP team member Elizabeth Stewart of Just Following Jesus. Link up your posts below!
I read the words and I see the wounds behind them. The words weep with hurt and ooze with the putrid infection of bitterness. I read them in blogs, in magazines, in books, and on Facebook statuses reduced to statements that pack a punch, “I’m a Christian, not a Churchian”.
If you know me personally or via my blog, then you know I’m a pastor’s wife. My husband and I have served in full time ministry almost as long as we’ve been married, over three decades. Maybe you expect me to defend the church, to excuse the abuse and hurts that happen there, as if to do so is my job. I’m not here to do PR for the church. I’m here to talk about it, because I’ve lived smack in the middle for it for well over half of my life.
I love the church. I didn’t say my church, although that would be true as well. I said the church, which is made up of people from every tribe and tongue, every worship style you could imagine and many, many, (too many), doctrinal differences and denominations. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is simply all those who have personally accepted and received Him as Savior and Lord. Instead of letting that One Beautiful Name unite us, unfortunately, we let our differences divide us.
I want to make it clear that church does not save you. You could attend church 365 days a year and still be lost for eternity if you don’t have a real, true personal relationship with Jesus Christ. However, I don’t agree with those who, due to the disappointment and wounds they’ve received in church, decide that church is unnecessary in their Christian walk.
If church isn’t part of serving Jesus, then most of the New Testament isn’t part of serving Jesus either. Paul’s letters were to the churches…real churches with structure and pastors and elders and meeting places and problems. John, in exile on the Isle of Patmos for his faith, penned the words that we now read, the last book of the Bible, the REVELATION of JESUS CHRIST. It begins with the letters to the seven churches. Again, real churches who gathered together, had structured leadership, and had strengths as well as weaknesses.
The most painful things I’ve had to walk through have happened in church. I’ve been hurt and betrayed, abandoned and misunderstood. At times, I’ve closed my eyes in worship and lifted my hands there in the front row on Sunday morning and inwardly cried out to God that I’d rather be anyplace else then in that unsafe place called church, my church. He didn’t snatch me up in a whirlwind, but left me right there in the middle of the mess, and taught me the truth that if you don’t quit you win. My place of wounding became my place of healing, as brothers and sisters, many who never even knew I’d been hurt, how I’d been hurt, or who had hurt me, loved me back into wholeness.
(I feel compelled to add a disclaimer here. I am not implying in anyway that you should stay in a church where there is emotional or spiritual abuse, perversion in leadership, doctrinal carelessness, etc.)
Here’s what I am saying. Hurting people hurt other people. Jesus Christ Himself said that He came for the sick and wounded. If our churches are full of hurting people who are, hopefully, on the journey to wholeness, it seems to me that the odds are pretty stacked that all these hurting people will in some way inflict wounds on each other. Obviously, God forbid that we use this as an excuse to be the one doing the wounding.
With over three decades in church leadership, I’ve got some big scars and, unfortunately, I’m sure I’ve done some wounding myself. I type those words with sadness and grief. The fact that I may have hurt others in Christ’s body deeply grieves me. I could tell you some horror stories of the wounds I’ve received myself, but part of the forgiving includes not keeping a record of the wrongs. However, on a less serious note, some pretty ridiculous things, that I can now laugh at, have happened.
There was the time we had a church potluck supper and one of our elderly ladies brought a homemade pie in a glass pie dish. When the dinner was over, I washed her dish and brought it out of the kitchen to her. She went home insisting that she had brought a 9 inch pie dish and I had, for some unknown reason, pulled the big switcheroo and given her an 8 inch pie dish instead.
She called everyone in the church to warn them against my thievery, and never came back to our church. She’s long since died, but I know the truth about the woman behind the pie dish. I know that in her eighties, she was still struggling to get past the molestation that happened to her at age five. Hurting people do hurt other people. Unfortunately, it happens in church.
Nothing in the Bible is included my accident. Amongst Jesus’ disciples there was a Judas. There was a Peter who denied Him when He most needed him. There were His friends who slept, instead of praying with Him and supporting Him, in His most agonizing moment of surrender to the Father’s will. The Apostle Paul pens the words from a prison cell, “all have forsaken me”. So, why does it surprise us, when we are too are betrayed, forsaken and abandoned by those who sit beside us in the pew or, God forbid, those who preach from the pulpit? It shouldn’t happen, but it does.
However, included also in Scripture is the Good Samaritan who reached down into the ditch to rescue a wounded one. There’s the woman who broke and spilled out her life’s savings and her heart of worship over the Savior, comforting Him as He faced Calvary. There’s Barnabas the encourager. There’s the people of the early church, who claimed nothing as their own, but lived like a family, tending to one another’s needs. Beside us in the pew may be our betrayer, but on the other side may be our savior, the God who indwells and loves us through our brothers and sisters in Christ.
That’s one of the things I love most about God’s Word. It doesn’t gloss over the ugliness of humanity,
but it also shows the beauty of God’s love that works through fallible flesh and blood. So, it doesn’t surprise me to see both in the church as well. There’s beauty in the middle of the messy place we call church.
For every hand that grabs a knife to stab you in the back, there’s two or three hands that reach down into the ditch to pull you out and bandage your wounds. For every word spoken that pierced your heart with pain, there are other voices speaking words of encouragement to you telling you to not give up.
I want to be the hand that reaches out to heal, the voice that speaks to encourage and bless. If all of us would make that our goal, the church would be a much safer place, a safe refuge for the wounded as God intended it to be.
every thursday, we gather together to celebrate redemption. here are the details:
1. link up a post (old or new) that relates to redemption. 2. put the ‘imperfect prose’ button at the bottom of your post, so others can find their way back here (here’s the button code:
” alt=”” border=”0″ />) 3. read other’s prose, and encourage them! so won’t you join us, as we “walk each other home”? (ram dass)
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